Submission on the Religious Discrimination Bills to the Senate Legal and Constitutional Affairs Committee Alternative formats available on request to PIAC - Contact PIAC
PIAC supports the prohibition of discrimination on the basis of religious belief under Commonwealth law. However, PIAC is unable to support the Religious Discrimination Bill 2021 as introduced because it is a radical departure from existing anti-discrimination law principles and norms.
If passed, the Religious Discrimination Bill 2021 would undermine the rights of women, LGBTI people, people with disability, and people of minority faiths to live their lives free from discrimination. It is also excessively complicated and contains a range of novel provisions that seek to privilege religious views over other rights in ways that will corrode, rather than build, tolerance and harmony.
Major problems with the Religious Discrimination Bill 2021 include:
- The ‘statement of belief’ provisions protect comments that offend, humiliate, insult or ridicule women, LGBTI people, people with disability, people of minority faiths and others on the basis of who they are in all areas of public life. This includes protecting fringe beliefs, such as religiously-motivated racist, anti-Semitic and Islamophobic comments.
- The ‘statement of belief’ provisions also deny access to justice to vulnerable groups, because the override of all other Commonwealth, state and territory anti-discrimination laws means state and territory tribunals will be unable to hear complaints where this ‘defence’ is raised. Instead, that issue will need to be considered by a federal-empowered court, at considerable cost to both complainants and respondents.
- The ‘religious exceptions’ in the Bill include a much more lenient test to permit discrimination than other anti-discrimination laws, and permit a much broader range of organisations to discriminate than other Acts. This will disadvantage people of minority faiths and no faith, including by allowing publicly-funded religious service delivery organisations to hire on the basis of belief rather than merit.
- The ‘religious exceptions’ also allow discrimination against children on the basis of religious belief, and potentially on the basis of other attributes, as well as potentially permitting discrimination against LGBT teachers under the ‘guise of religious views’. The Bill also overrides existing state and territory anti-discrimination protections for teachers, in Victoria, Queensland, the ACT and Tasmania.